Mexico City

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Transportation in Mexico City

Mexico City can seem somewhat of an intimidating place to expats who have never experienced a bustling city of its size – the capital of Mexico is one of the largest cities worldwide. Below, you can find out more about life in Mexico City, including info on its language and culture.

Painful Gridlock for Commuters

As you can surely imagine based purely on the unfathomable size of the population, getting around Mexico City is not always a swift or pleasant affair. In fact, recent reports by Goldman Sachs' Patrick Archambault and the navigation app Waze classify Mexico City as one of the worst cities in the world for commuters. The sheer number of cars on the streets has all but paralyzed the traffic in Mexico City. A 2012 study even suggested that the near-constant gridlock costs the local and national economy a staggering 2.5 billion USD annually. An estimated average speed of 17 km/h will probably make many an expat think twice about taking their car to work.

The city administration puts a lot of effort into providing efficient and modernized infrastructure for its 20 million residents. However, even with designated bus lanes, a very extensive subway network, and measures such as Hoy No Circula, there is still much work to be done. A sign that things are looking up, however, is the fact that the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) awarded Mexico City with the 2013 Sustainable Transport Award for positive developments in sustainable transportation and urban livability. Highlights were the local Metrobus system and other projects such as the bike-sharing service Ecobici.

Hoy No Circula

Mexico City is located on a plateau almost completely enclosed by mountains and volcanoes, some of which exceed altitudes of 5,000 m. Therefore, the circulation of air — or rather the lack thereof — is highly problematic. The city endures some of the worst smog levels worldwide, as the heavy fumes and emissions become trapped within the mountain belt. This problem is further intensified in winter, when thermal inversion prevents pollution from rising. Air pollution has long been one of the most pressing issues for Mexico City and its inhabitants, with more than 10,000 deaths per year attributed to the poor air quality.

As a means to combat the worsening conditions, city administration came up with a rather simple, yet effective, solution, which has proven quite beneficial for the air quality: Hoy No Circula. The program is in effect from Monday to Saturday, 05:00 to 22:00, and prohibits the use of vehicles based on their license plate. License plates ending in the following digits are not allowed on the roads on the following days:

  • 5 or 6: Monday and the first Saturday of every month
  • 7 or 8: Tuesday and the second Saturday of every month
  • 3 or 4: Wednesday and the third Saturday of every month
  • 1 or 2: Thursday and the fourth Saturday of every month
  • 9 or 0: Friday and the fifth Saturday of every month (if applicable)

The effects of the program are very evident to long-time residents. The air quality has improved significantly from the dismal state it was in during the first half of the 1990s.

Play It Safe on the Metro or Dare to Ride a Pesero?

Mexico City has an extensive public transportation network. You will have the choice between a metro network consisting of twelve lines servicing every corner of the city, bus and trolleybus services, as well as Metrobus, which has recently been expanded with a fourth line. For route planners and additional service information, please see the pages of the respective operators (Spanish only): Sistema de Transporte Colectivo for the metro, Servicio de Transportes Electricos del D.F. for bus and trolleybus, and Metrobus.

Yet another mass transit option is used by many commuters and other passengers. The peseros, Mexico City’s cabs or minibuses, are easily the cheapest and most popular way of getting around town, especially in the parts that are not serviced by any other public transportation systems. These green and grey microbuses operate on fixed lines, picking up and dropping off passengers anywhere along the way. Be warned, however, that peseros are also somewhat accident prone due to self-trained drivers, so expats are often advised against using them. Nevertheless, they are part of daily life in Mexico City, so everyone should experience a ride in a pesero at least once.


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Francois Bertrand

"The last InterNations event was just great: I had some very nice chats with fellow expats (even Canadians like me) in Mexico City. "

Barbara Melington

"With InterNations, we had the chance to find a good bi-lingual school for our children in Mexico. They are gonna grow up as true 'third-culture kids'! "

Global Expat Guide